Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park
‘Deeds Not Words’. This is the slogan that the Suffragette Campaign championed when fighting for the simple right for women to vote in Britain. Indeed, it is certainly true that in cases such as the search for basic rights, actions speak much louder than words, and certainly the actions of many Muslim women down the ages stand as true testimony to the justice and honour women have been granted in Islam, not only in comparison to the pre-Islamic patriarchal society, but also the women in today’s patriarchy.
While the West is intent on protecting Muslim women from Islam as they erroneously perceive it, the reality is that Islam protected women upon the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Since the arrival of Islam and its establishment, Muslim women have benefitted from its rights, including the rights to inheritance, own property, work, divorce, as well as countless more. Yet, in September 2017, it was global news that Saudi Arabia had finally allowed women to drive. Unfortunately, many are quick to believe that such absurd and oppressive laws were a result of the Islamic Sharia when in fact this was nothing but a distorted manipulation of the beautiful teachings to implement a chauvinistic society and perhaps keep tight rein on the women. So, allow me put examples of deeds to the words.
A primary right that Muslim women have been granted is that to have academic aspirations and to seek to fulfil those. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) enjoined his followers to even travel to China if necessary to acquire knowledge. The significance of China being that it was a symbol of a land far and difficult to reach, stressing the importance for all of his followers to seek knowledge. This is most certainly a fundamental right as education is a valuable and irreplaceable key. Education allows women to enjoy an independence that they are otherwise denied. The Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)’s wife Hazrat Ayesha (May Allah be pleased with her) is regarded as one of Islam’s first scholars and many sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) were narrated by Hazrat Ayesha. In fact, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said that ‘half the religion could be learnt from Ayesha’. Muslim women continued to take advantage of this right. In fact, the first ever degree awarding educational institute (university) in the world was established by Fatima Al-Fihre. Therefore, it is clear that Islam has granted such a basic right and that we can look to women such as Hazrat Ayesha and Fatima Al-Firhe as great inspirations of true scholarly excellency. Particularly, as today there is the widespread misconception that Islam does not allow women to study. The reality is quite the contrary, and indeed such examples do justice to the words of the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him).
Further, as opposed to the popular belief that Islam does not allow women to work, the truth is that Islam has recognised women’s desire and need to have a job and to make money for themselves. Indeed, all their earnings are their own and they are under no obligation to share their wealth with their husbands or fathers. Indeed, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him)’s first wife Hazrat Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her) was a prominent and very successful business woman in Mecca. Hazrat Khadijah continues to inspire many Muslim women today, as not only was she a successful business woman, but she was known as ‘Tahira’ – the pure one – thus showing not only worldly success but immense moral purity and proving that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. She was a wife as well as a business woman.
However, it is neither education nor successful businesses that make these and countless other women inspirations for women even of the 21st century. It was their steadfastness and ability to endure terrible suffering, showing true loyalty to their living God that makes them standard bearers. The women of early Islam withstood great torments by the opponents of Islam with such strength. Of Hazrat Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her), the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) said “She believed in me when the whole world refuted me and she attested to my veracity when the whole world accused me of falsehood. She offered me compassion and loyalty with her wealth when everyone else had forsaken me.” The unity of Islam has given women a purpose to fulfil which is to be the nation moulders. This great task can certainly be fulfilled when looking towards the women of the past, that were fundamental in the establishment of Islam. By understanding that they were the first to take advantage of the rights bestowed upon them by Allah Almighty, women of today can look to the future and continue to use these same rights and continue a shining legacy.